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Ja’lon James, 11, struck in N. Lawndale is 3rd Chicago child killed in 2 weeks

2:45 PM CDT on June 16, 2022

Jalon James

Content warning: This post includes descriptions of children’s deaths.

Update 6/17/22: While some CBS Chicago reported that witnesses said Ja'lon James was fatally struck while biking, the traffic crash report states that he was on foot, based on police surveillance camera footage. Streetsblog initially reported the case as a bike fatality, but will be treating it as a pedestrian fatality moving forward. This post has been edited accordingly.

Tragically, Chicago has just seen the third traffic violence death of a child under 12 years old within two weeks. Following the June 2 killing of Rafi Cardenas, 2, in Lincoln Square, and the June 10 death of Lily Shambrook, 3, in Uptown, Ja'lon James, 11, was struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver this morning near North Lawndale College Prep school.

There are dashed "advisory" bike lanes on this stretch of 16th Street. Image: FOX Chicago
There are dashed "advisory" bike lanes on this stretch of 16th Street. Image: FOX Chicago

According to police, on Thursday, June 16, at about 10:20 a.m., Ja'lon (pronounced "JAYlon") was crossing the street on the 3300 block of West 16th Street. North Lawndale College Prep is located at the southwest corner of 16th and Spaulding Avenue (3300 W.)

A vehicle driver struck Ja'lon and fled in an unknown direction, police said. No further information about the driver, the vehicle or the circumstances of the crash were provided in the initial police statement.

Ja'lon was taken to Stroger Hospital, where he was pronounced dead, according to the Cook County medical examiner's office.

WGN reported that the child's backpack was left in the middle of the roadway.

According to a CBS report witnesses said the boy entering 16th Street from an alley east of Homan Avenue (3400 W.) when the eastbound driver struck and dragged him about 100 feet. The driver then stopped and backed up before fleeing the scene.

Looking east on 16th Street east of Homan Avenue (3400 W.) Jalon reportedly was riding a bike north out of the alley east of Fine Fair Food & Liquor when the the eastbound driver struck him. Image: Google Maps
Looking east on 16th Street east of Homan Avenue (3400 W.) Ja'lon reportedly was crossing the street southbound after exiting an alley east of Fine Fair Food & Liquor when the the eastbound driver struck him. Image: Google Maps

Some witnesses told Rezaei that someone got in a car, followed the offender and got a license plate number, and then gave the information to police. But there's no word whether the driver is in custody.

According to a Block Club Chicago report, neighbors said drivers frequently speed on 16th, and more stop signs are needed to slow them down.

“I heard the bang,” neighbor Keith Gerald told Block Club. “I thought [the driver] hit a car. I looked up and it was a little boy. I was really upset. That boy was really young.”

“A lot of people don’t obey the signs on the ground," a witness named Latanya told BCC. "They see a crosswalk but they could care less,” she said.

16th Street (the next red street south of Douglas Boulevard, was slated for bike lanes. Image: CDOT
16th Street (the next red street south of Douglas Boulevard, was slated for bike lanes. Image: CDOT

As of last September, the Chicago Department of Transportation was planning to install bike lanes on a two-mile stretch of 16th Street between the city limits (about 4600 W.) and Sacramento Drive (3000 W.) in Douglass Park, as part of a new network of bikeways on the West Side. Footage from FOX news shows that in this location there are currently dashed "advisory" bike lanes, which appear to have little or no effect on calming traffic.

CDOT provided the following statement. "Last year CDOT installed new bike lanes along 16th street from Kilbourn Ave. (4600 W.) to Albany Ave. (3100 W.), including protected lanes from Central Park Ave. (3600 W.) to Homan Ave. and from Spaulding Ave. (3300 W.) to Kedzie (3200 W.) We’ve also installed curb extensions. CDOT is working on adding additional bike routes in the community as part of Neighborhood Bike Networks in North Lawndale, Austin, and Belmont Cragin. CDOT will conduct a complete review of the circumstances involved in today’s fatality."

Oboi Reed, head of the mobility justice nonprofit Equiticity, provided the following statement in response to Ja'lon's death.

I’ve been a proud resident of North Lawndale for over three years, and love this neighborhood. I love the people, organizations, and the work being done here to improve our community. Myself and others consider 16th Street the cultural corridor of North Lawndale, incredibly rich in a history which has impacted our entire country.

It’s heartbreaking to know that today we lost an 11-year-old boy to a traffic crash here in North Lawndale. While the city of Chicago recently installed bike lanes on a significant stretch of 16th Street, which Equiticity fully supported, the city and others must do more to re-engineer our streets in an effort to reduce traffic violence in the neighborhood.

We need a citywide strategy, led by Black and Brown people in neighborhoods, fully resourced with the necessary levels of funding to wholesale reimagine our streets, operationalizing racial equity and mobility justice from the beginning. This comprehensive strategy must be cultural, contextual, and structural.

I am confident we will reduce traffic violence. However, we must first acknowledge our current strategy is not working.

Roughly 300 people, including multiple elected officials, attended last Sunday's Walk + Roll for Safe Streets, which traveled between the Rafi Cardenas crash site and the location where Lily Shambrook, demanding action to prevent future heartbreak. After Ja'lon's tragic death, calls for the city and state to address Chicago's traffic violence epidemic are sure to only grow louder.

Better Streets Chicago and Chicago Family Biking, which organized Sunday's rally, have partnered with the Active Transportation Alliance on an online petition calling on city officials to be more proactive about protecting children, and all Chicagoans, from traffic violence. Sign the petition here.

"Our hearts go out to Ja'lon’s family for their tragic loss," said ATA executive director Amy Rynell in a statement. "Just devastating. Children dying on our streets is unacceptable — and we know how to prevent these tragedies. We must design our streets with safety for people – rather than speed or driver convenience – as the top priority.  It’s imperative that our city and state leaders act with urgency to build safe infrastructure before more of our friends, family, and loved ones die."

Fatality Tracker: 2022 Chicago pedestrian and bicyclist deaths on surface streets (including one scooter-on-sidewalk case)

Pedestrian: 17
Bicyclist: 4

Note: Streetsblog Chicago’s traffic death numbers represent fatal crashes on Chicago surface streets, based on media reports and/or preliminary Chicago Police Department data.

2022 Chicago pedestrian fatality cases (including one scooter-on-sidewalk case)

2022 Chicago bike fatality cases

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